Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” engineered a surprise victory over Morgan Spurlock’s 3D concert documentary “One Direction: This Is Us” at the Labor Day box office, becoming the first movie of 2013 to top the North American chart three weekends in a row.
Overall, Hollywood enjoyed a record Labor Day, with revenue reaching an estimated $156 million, beating the record set in 2007 with $148 million. The film industry also enjoyed a record summer ($4.7 billion) thanks to a wide array of films prospering and despite a handful of high-profile flame-outs.
“The Butler,” distributed by The Weinstein Co., is one example of a smaller title that has shown remarkable staying power. The historical drama grossed $20 million for the four-day holiday, pushing its domestic total to a $79.3 million. The film’s outstanding run is a testament, at least in part, to Oprah Winfrey’s standing.
Winfrey stars opposite Forest Whitaker, who plays a White House Butler working through eight presidential administrations. The film — a likely awards contender — is certain to gross north of $100 million.
“The audience continues to broaden out and get younger,” says TWC distribution chief Erik Lomis.
On Sunday, Sony/TriStar had predicted that One Direction would win the four-day weekend with $21.5 million after coming in ahead of “The Butler” for the three-day stretch. While it didn’t quite reach that mark, One Direction is still a win, considering its modest $10 million budget.
One Direction, opening in more than 2,500 theaters domestically and receiving an “A” CinemaScore, is produced by Spurlock and Simon Cowell, who assembled the boy band — comprising Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson — after the musicians appeared as solo acts on the U.K.’s The X Factor.
Overseas, it opened to $14.5 million, with a large chunk of business coming in from the U.K.
One Direction was a collaboration among various divisions of the sprawling Sony Corp. empire, including the feature film division, music and electronics. Spurlock used Sony’s newly launched F55 4K camera to shoot One Direction, with a special crew of technicians from Japan aiding the filmmakers in integrating the new camera technology into their production process.
“Everyone rolled up their sleeves and worked well together. We took a grassroots approach to the film, and we are thrilled with the result,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s worldwide president of distribution.
After reaching new highs, the concert documentary genre reached a low in July 2012 with the $10.2 million four-day debut of Katy Perry concert doc Part of Me. A high was set in 2008 when Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana concert film “Best of Both Worlds” opened to $31 million, while Justin Bieber’s concert doc “Never Say Never” debuted to $29.5 million in February 2011.
Among the three other new Labor Day entries, Lionsgate and Pantelion’s Spanish-language comedy “Instructions Not Included” was the only one to prosper. Playing in only 347 theaters and placing No. 5, the movie grossed an estimated $10 million, pointing to the potent buying power of Hispanic moviegoers.
“Instructions Not Included” — boosted by a rare “A+” CinemaScore — marks the biggest opening ever for a Spanish-language film in North America. And it is already the highest-grossing film in Pantelion’s history. Pantelion is a joint venture of Lionsgate and Televisa.
“Getaway,” starring Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez, was dead on arrival with a four-day gross of $5.5 million, putting it at No. 10. The movie, one of the worst reviewed films of all time, did no better with moviegoers, who gave it a “C+.”
Directed by Courtney Solomon, the PG-13 film marks the final Dark Castle Entertainment title to be released by Warner Bros. as Joel Silver’s production company commences its new deal with Universal. The movie follows a man (Hawke) and his passenger (Spring Breakers star Gomez) who are forced to drive around under the instructions of a person (Jon Voight) who is holding the man’s wife hostage.
Political thriller “Closed Circuit,” from Working Title Films and released by Focus Features in the U.S., fared no better. Headlining Eric Bana and opening Wednesday, the movie posted a six-day debut of roughly $3.5 million. For the weekend, the film placed No 15.
“Closed Circuit” was directed by John Crowley from a script by Steven Knight. The rated-R crime thriller stars Bana and Rebecca Hall as attorneys working on a high-profile case involving a Muslim man accused of setting off a bomb in London. The British thriller has a 41% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Among holdovers, R-rated comedy “We’re the Millers” stayed high up on the chart to jump the $100 million mark domestically. The New Line film, headlining Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston, placed No. 3 with a four-day gross of $15.9 million. Its North American total is $112.9 million through Sunday.
Coming in No. 4 was DisneyToon Studios’ kids pic “Planes.” The 3D animated film grossed $10.7 million for a domestic total of $73.8 million.